Cacao From Cambodia?

It was the Year of the Lord 1586 and Portuguese capuchin monk António da Madalena was the first Westerner to admire the largest temple complex in the world, Angkor Wat, with his own eyes.

Today, millions of people a year visit Angkor Wat. But with the exception of this ‘world wonder’ is no one interested in Cambodia. The country with the rich cultural Khmer tradition continues to lose ground. No longer literally, to neighboring countries, as in all centuries after the fall of the huge Khmer empire in 1431, but economically and culturally. There are also practically no more products that put Cambodia on the international map. But as of 2014, an agricultural product has emerged that previously never grew in Cambodia: cacao. Is the ‘brown gold’ able to turn the tables for Cambodia?

Read all about it in the article on does cocoa have a chance in Cambodia?

Thai Cacao Mafia

There has been a true revolution when it comes to when it comes to the rise of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Thailand. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the epicentres of this beautiful development. But what’s happening with cacao farm production in Thailand? Why did cacao production go in a downward spiral during the past twenty years? This is the story of creative bean-to-bar makers, of courageous initiatives to revive Thai cacao farming, and of cunning businessmen fooling farmers.

Read all about it in the article on the Thai cacao struggle

The Cacao Link Between Suriname, Curacao, Ceylon and Malaysia

Considering the arrival of experimental cacao in Ceylon in the first half of the 18th century, and taking into account the start of commercial cacao production in Suriname by the Dutch in the same period, it seems plausible that Dutch traders brought the cacao tree not from Venezuela but from some of the first Dutch cacao plantations in Suriname.

Read all about the underexposed cacao link between Suriname (through Curacao to Ceylon) and Malaysia in the article on the missing Asia cacao link

The Dutch Cacao Route To Asia

On 2 June 1603, Dutch admiral Joris van Spilbergen stood before King Vimaladharmasuriya I of Kandy (Ceylon, Sri lanka). Van Spilbergen had just arrived after a 12-months journey that brought him from Veere, in the Netherlands to Kandy. Apparently, the admiral made a good impression, because the two immediately developed a close friendship.

The King even became curious about the Dutch language of his new friend and decided to learn it. Little did they know that their friendship would start one of the two routes through which cacao would reach Asia which I will call: the Dutch cacao route.

Read all about it in the article on who introduced cacao to Asia?

Live to 100! The Secret Formula from a Remote Archipelago

In 1944, Benjamin H. Kean was a 32-year-old army surgeon stationed in the Panama Canal Zone by the US army. Later he would play a disputed role in the Iran hostage crisis as physician to the exiled Shah. But in WWII he was an unknown doctor who, one quiet day decided to visit the islands of the San Blas archipelago, roughly 25 kilometres from the Panama coast.

There he met a group of Kuna Indians, who had lived in a very isolated situation for the past 500 years. He discovered that these Kuna Indians didn’t develop high blood pressure, even as they aged. He also learned that every member of this Indian tribe drank at least three to four cups of cacao per day, but he didn’t make the link. 

Read all about the definitive breakthrough of cocoa as one of the healthiest food sources in the world in the article on : Live to 100! The Secret Formula from a Remote Archipelago Will Surprise You

Who Were The Cacao Pioneers of Africa?

It was a hot day in the year 1822 on the tiny Portuguese island São Tomé, 200 kilometers from mainland West Africa. Governor João Baptista de Silva e Lagos was personally present in the harbour to witness a merchant ship arrive from Brazil. The ship carried a valuable cargo, ordered by King João VI of Portugal: cacao seedlings who were brought in from Bahía in Brazil’s north-east.

Read all about the introduction of cacao to Africa in the article on Pioneers of West-African Cacao

Golden Opportunity for Chinese Chocolate Brands

Read all about an upcoming trend of the symbiosis of chocolate with local Chinese delicacies. If local Chinese brands pick up on this trend, they will have a golden opportunity for market dominance. And this could well be the final breakthrough in average Chinese acceptance of chocolate as a daily consumable item. Read all about it in the article I wrote for is cultural understanding the key to sweet success in China?

Kidnapped by an airline

Before I suddenly found myself in a remote prison in Cambodia, I was kidnapped. Not by a confused man, not by ISIS but back in 2016 by a company, an airline company; and even worse: one of the highest-rated airline businesses in the world, Qatar Airways.

To put nice things first: I always had excellent experiences with Qatar. It is a very convenient airline. The crew is very professional and friendly; the business class is amazing, and even the economy class is rather good compared to European airline companies with chairs with at least 10cm more leg space.

At the beginning of April, I booked a flight from Phnom Penh to Amsterdam. Let me explain about this flight: it stops in Ho Chi Minh and Doha. In the latter, I have to change airplane to fly to Amsterdam. And early May I booked a flight back along the same route. However, I wanted to change my arrival city. Not a big deal, so I thought. Because of a business issue, I needed to be first in Vietnam before going to Cambodia, so I decided to get out in Ho Chi Minh and not fulfill my flight till the end. I arranged a week before a visa with the Vietnamese authorities so I was allowed to enter Vietnam on May 5.

At Schiphol Amsterdam, I instructed the friendly ground crew about my change of schedule. She was more than happy to help me, but her system didn’t allow her to change my luggage destination from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh. She asked for assistance and this -also friendly- staff member came with the solution: don’t change anything. Just inform the Qatar staff member who opens the plane door that I went off in Ho Chi Minh, and he would be forced to find my luggage (which they labeled priority) because according to Qatar policy luggage cannot travel without the passenger.

So far so good. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh and found the corresponding staff member. And here it went totally wrong. First, he accused me of lying because I didn’t note the name of the Qatar colleague in Amsterdam. And then he turned things upside down: I could not leave the airplane and enter Vietnam because my luggage had the final destination of Phnom Penh and I had to follow my luggage instead of the other way around.  I refused. I showed him the visa papers I got and asked him to let me talk to an immigration officer. I wanted to ask if I had permission to enter Vietnam today but the Qatar staff refused me five times to let me speak directly to Immigration.

He even threatened to fly me back to Doha and accused me of lying. I was not only victim of a bizarre situation; technically I was kidnapped. I wanted to get off and enter Vietnam (and therefore force Qatar Airways to unload my luggage because according to the explanation of the ground personnel in Amsterdam: the luggage has to follow the passenger), but I was held against my will. In the end, he called security to force me to go back to the airplane, twenty meters away. And I was compelled to stay on the plane until I landed in Phnom Penh. The same day I took a flight back to Ho Chi Minh… with Cambodia Angkor Air.

Despite being held hostage for a short time, I still consider Qatar airlines a rather good airline with usually good service. But maybe this is what they call the Stockholm Syndrom: feeling sympathy for your kidnapper.

My name is Kirk, James Kirk

It must have been in the early seventies. I was not older than 10 when I saw a rerun of the original Star Trek tv series on Dutch television. I was shocked. “Space, the final frontier.” Maybe it sounds too philosophical but to me, back then, it changed my perception of the world. It was as if there was suddenly no frontier. And if there was one, it seemed you just had to cross it, to discover there was another one behind this one. I was still a young boy, but Star Trek showed me that reality was just an expression in my time and my space; a reality that could change or simply be replaced by another reality. Star Trek was not just mere entertainment for me; it pushed me to think and contemplate. In that sense, it was maybe a better education than the hours I spent in the classrooms at my primary school, although I was privileged with a splendid teacher.

I remember an episode in which the Enterprise crew arrived on a planet where fantasies became reality. You just had to dream or fantasise, and it just turned into a real happening. I can’t recall it exactly, but it had some moral lesson connected to it. I think it had to do with addiction. You got stuck with your fantasies, and you couldn’t leave the planet because you could not let go of your dreams. Star Trek, especially the first seasons had some Christian moral teachings hidden within its marvellous setting, including the introduction of a black character on Western television (Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura). Some will probably argue that it had nothing to do with Christianity but to me, a character like Uhura was connected to the lessons I learned in my Catholic church which I visited until I declared myself an atheist when I was 16: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself”.

For me, Star Trek also had a big parallel with the 17th-century journeys of Dutch ships to the Far East and the Indies. Unlike the Portuguese and the Spanish explorers, the Dutch didn’t bring priests or missionaries with them to convert other people to their belief. They were on discovery to find new races, new animal life, new continents. They were not on the way to colonise, especially not in the first decades of exploring new worlds. It was really like it happened in the Star Trek series: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

In the course of years, I actually lost track of Star Trek. I got other interests and to be honest: all the following series and movies never gave me the feeling that these original shows had given me: the sense of an unlimited space and unlimited imagination. But it changed with the Star Trek movie from 2009, simply called ‘Star Trek’. With the emotional opening sequence of the birth of James Kirk, it was for me a rebirth of the emotions I had when I was a little boy: once again I was hooked. 18 seconds before you die, the only thing you want to do, is to chat with your wife who just gave birth to your son, and who you forced to leave before your space ship rams into the ship of your enemy. To chat with the person, you love the most, about the creature you wanna give a personality, your baby: “What are we gonna call him?” What identity are we going to give him? Watching this scene once again, I am thinking to myself: Is this what Star Trek is all about: love? Is seeking the final frontier and trying to cross it, seeking the love that will absorb all boundaries, seeking the power that will unify us all, the ultimate message of the best sci-fi series of all time? It is a beautiful thought, and I will cherish it. But for now, I will be happy with the ordinary knowledge that I can enjoy a new Star Trek movie this year, a new series in 2017, and that I can imagine myself as the captain of the Enterprise in the command chair on the bridge during the Elfia event in Holland this April; and I will call myself Kirk, James Kirk.